Spot the Ponte Vecchio – however blurred the photograph – on a CD cover and it’s a fair bet that Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence is on the disc, probably programmed with the Serenade for Strings. Double points for this Sony Classical release featuring Metamorphosen Berlin then, even if the title ‘Serenade’ doesn’t entirely give the game away. Founded in 2010, Metamorphosen Berlin is led by cellist Wolfgang Emanuel Schmidt, hence the three extra items sandwiched between the main courses here, arrangements of miniatures for cello and string orchestra (two by Schmidt himself).
The 19-strong string ensemble makes a big-boned sound, closely miked, as is the Concertgebouw Chamber Orchestra on Pentatone. It launches into the Souvenir de Florence with bold confidence, although at a slower tempo than the Vienna Chamber Orchestra on Naxos – a longtime favourite recording of this familiar coupling. Schmidt again encourages long-breathed phrasing in the elegiac Adagio cantabile, unusually reverting to the work’s sextet origins in giving the romantic theme to solo violin, viola and cello. Indira Koch (leader) caresses her solo line while Andreas Willwohl (viola) and Janina Ruh (cello) turn it into a trio of immense beauty and repose – more intimate than massed strings swooning away (but then, I prefer the sextet version of this work). The latter movements, more Russian in character, are taken vigorously.
The Serenade for Strings gets a fine performance, on the brink of tragedy in a very restrained speed for the ‘Élégie’, Metamorphosen Berlin taking a much broader tempo than the VCO (10'43" as opposed to 9'06"). The famous Waltz goes with a gentle lilt and the finale is vigorously played. In the shorter numbers, Schmidt leads a wistful Valse sentimentale, while October from The Seasons particularly suits the cello spotlight, his glowing tone warm and inviting.